STEWARTVILLE — Judging by the first half, the best guess was whichever team had the ball last in this matchup of top-10 Class AAAA teams would walk away a winner.
No. 10-ranked Faribault scored 26 first-half points, never punting once. No. 9 Stewartville scored 21, with two punts.
But then came a halftime discussion by Stewartville that made all the difference. Defensively, it centered on better communication, the Tigers defenders making sure to be talking to each other those final 24 minutes.
It proved to be one of the more productive talks and then halves that this team will likely ever have. More importantly, it led to Stewartville snaring its third win in as many tries, pitching a shutout in the second half and winning in comeback fashion, 35-26.
"That second half, we just talked more," said Stewartville defensive tackle Caden King, who played a big role in tightening up the Tigers' run defense after allowing 133 rushing yards in the opening half. Among that mass of yards was a 59-yard burst up the middle for a touchdown by Matthias Lenway on Faribault's opening possession.
"We knew what was happening in the second half and things all fell together for us." King said.
Faribault managed just 63 rushing yards after intermission. And it wasn't just that Stewartville run defense that had shored things up. The big plays that star Falcons quarterback Hunter Nelson was cranking out with his strong and accurate left arm also mostly went away.
Everything was suddenly working for Stewartville's defense.
"We moved our defense back a little bit and just started to let our guys play fast," Tigers coach Garrett Mueller said.
This win, which Mueller called his program's biggest in a few years, wasn't just about defense. Also shown off here was Stewartville's first-year starting quarterback, Eli Klavetter.
Klavetter sure hasn't been playing like a varsity rookie, and he didn't figure he would. A strong-armed 6-foot-3 senior, Klavetter had spent the last three years playing behind Stewartville multi-sports star Will Tschetter, who is now on a basketball scholarship at Michigan.
Klavetter watched, learned and then really got to work this summer, honing his game with the knowledge that now it was his turn.
"This is the culmination of a lot of work put in by me behind the scenes," said Klavetter, who entered the game averaging 175 passing yards and doing it with blistering accuracy.
Klavetter didn't let up against Faribault. He was again deadly accurate (21-for-28 passing) -- five of his strikes for touchdowns -- and finished with 292 passing yards.
His top target was Alex Larson, who had four catches for 84 yards, including 10 and 32-yard TD catches. But Klavetter mixed things up tremendously, finding nine different receivers.
While the Stewartville defense held Faribault in check on its first two possessions of the second half, the Tigers offense couldn't be stopped. A 32-yard TD strike to Larson gave Stewartville the lead at 5:58 of the third quarter, and then Klavetter made things even more comfortable for his team with a 19-yard TD pass to Jacob Weightman.
As far as the Tigers' offense is concerned, Klavetter wasn't ready to take nearly all of the credit. His "protectors" have been remarkable.
"My offensive line was great," he said. "I've not been touched (by defenders) all year. But this win is big for us. Faribault is a fantastic team. But this brings us even more together as a group."
Stewartville 35, Faribault 26
Faribault 14 12 0 0 — 26
Stewartville 14 7 8 6 — 35
S — Alex Larson 10 pass from Eli Klavetter (Parker Wangen kick), 10:47.
F -- Matthias Lenway 59 run (Edwardo Solis kick), 9:24.
F -- Jordan Klecker 68 pass from Hunter Nelson (Solis kick), 7:25.
S— Sikkink 21 pass from Klavetter (Wangen kick), 3:28
S -- Alex Wood 22 pass from Klavetter (Wangen kick), 11:16.
F -- Hunter Nelson 12 run (kick failed), 7:16.
F -- Nelson 1 run (pass failed), 5:22.
S — Alex Larson 32 pass from Klavetter (Colton Parker pass from Klavetter), 5:58.
S — Jacob Weightman 20 pass from Klavetter (kick failed), 10:48.
First downs 17 25
Total net yards 435 405
Rushing yards 196 113
Passing yards 239 292
Pass at.t-comp.-int. 18-25-1 21-28-0-5
Fumbles lost 2-1 0-0
Penalties yards 3-30 5-55
Faribault — Matthias Lenway 14-134, Hunter Nelson 9-38, Elijah Hammonds 6-24. Stewartville — Owen Sikkink 9-53, Alex Wood 8-38, Eli Klavetter 2-14, Parker Klavetter 1-2, Jacob Weightman 1-6.
Faribault — Hunter Nelson 18 completions, 25 attempts, 1 interception, 1 touchdown, for 239 yards. Stewartville — Eli Klavetter 21-28-0-5, for 292.
Faribault — Jordan Klecker 3-87, AJ Worrell 3-59, Johnny Frank 4-35, Lenway 2-(minus 1), Ian Ehlers 1-7, Elijah Hammonds 3-27, Jimmy Wlbor 2-24. Stewartville — Owen Sikkink 5-65, Alex Larson 4-86, Cole Jannsen 2-16, Wood 3-41, Colton Parker 2-18, Jacob Weightman 1-10, Henry Tschetter 1-25, Parker Klavetter 1-7, Ian Hoot 2-24.